With one swing of his powerful bat, Valmeyer High senior catcher Mark Nappier wiped out 45 years of frustration.
Nappier’s sixth-inning home run gave the Pirates their first baseball regional championship since 1971 in a 2-1 victory over Metro-East Lutheran.
“I was just trying to use a good approach and get on base, get in scoring position,” said Nappier, whose .420 average, 11 doubles, 10 home runs and 49 RBIs helped him earn enough votes from area coaches to become the Belleville News-Democrat’s Small-School (Class 1A-2A) Baseball Player of the Year.
Nappier’s 10 home runs and 49 RBIs were the second-most by any player in the entire St. Louis area this season. The game-winning homer to win the regional soared over the left-field fence at the New Athens Regional and Nappier himself called it the longest bomb he had ever hit.
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“He threw a fastball about belt high and I just put a good swing on it and it carried a long way,” Nappier said. “It was really a special feeling when I got home and greeted my teammates; something I’ll cherish forever.
“I thought they were going to try to work around me, but they made the mistake.”
Nappier turned a lot of pitcher’s mistakes into positives for the Valmeyer offense during four years as a starter. The Southwestern Illinois College recruit hit 17 home runs in a Pirates uniform while driving in 126 runs.
Not since the days of the Rippelmeyers and the Rohlfings, both legendary baseball families in the Monroe County town, has Valmeyer seen numbers like that.
“They were pitching around him most of the time and to have that many home runs and RBIs is special,” Valmeyer coach Greg Reinhardt said. “For a spring season, to think about those numbers, the home runs and the RBIs ... those are going to stand for while. He’s already missed, even in the summer time.”
Nappier was Valmeyer’s lone senior and he credited his teammates for helping him reach such lofty numbers.
“For the RBIs you need your team and for the home runs you’ve got to put in the time and effort to get that swing and to be that strong,” Nappier said. “You’ve go to stay mentally tough when things aren’t going your way. You’ve got to battle back out of it.”
The Pirates finished 22-15-1 and reached the Carlinville Sectional championship before losing 8-0 to eventual state tourney third-place finisher Okawville.
“It was really special to be part of a team going to the sectional championship,” Nappier said. “It didn’t end up like we wanted to, but hopefully next year they can get through Okawville or some of the other teams. Hopefully they can bring home a sectional championship and keep going on to state.
“I know they’re good enough and have a lot of talent. They can truly do it.”
Nappier was vacationing with his family in Gulf Shores, Ala., when he got a text from Reinhardt telling him he had been voted BND Small-School Player of the Year.
“He had a huge target on his back this year,” Reinhardt said. “When he swings the bat, his balls just travel so much further. He takes a good hack and really gets his weight into the ball. The power made him a special one. He didn’t hit any short ones.”
That includes a shot over the scoreboard against Althoff at Whitey Herzog Field and several other tape-measure blasts.
Nappier struggled through the first eight to 10 games this season when dealing with a steady diet of breaking pitches and pitches out of the strike zone. Anxious to hit anything close, he developed some bad habits that could only be broken by being more patient at the plate.
“They kept throwing me junk and it got a little frustrating there, having games where you’d walk once or twice or ground out on curveballs,” Nappier said. “The coaches told me to be patient and I started working the count where they had to throw me fastball or off-speed pitches for strikes.”
Nappier said he could play catcher, first base or designated hitter for SWIC. He’s spending the summer honing his swing in the Metro Collegiate League and also playing for the Mon-Clair League’s Valmeyer Lakers.
“I’m definitely seeing a lot better pitching and it’s helping me out with my game,” he said.
Nappier’s “Shot Heard Round Valmeyer” homer to win the regional won’t soon be forgotten. According to Reinhardt, neither will Nappier’s leadership for a young team that figures to come back strong in 2017.
“The only thing that would have made it better was if it was a walk-off in the seventh inning, but I’m glad it came in the sixth,” Reinhardt said. “I know we’re going to be good again next year, but his year was one for the books. He’ll be remembered and missed for just getting us past that (regional) drought.”
Okawville’s Smith is Coach of the Year
For the second year in a row, area coaches selected Okawville’s Jackie Smith as the BND Small-School Baseball Coach of the Year.
Smith has guided the Rockets to back-to-back state tournament appearances and did so this season led by a pair of first-team All-Area picks in senior catcher Brad Fuhrhop and senior pitcher Brendan Killion.
Okawville finished 20-14-1, bouncing back from an 8-6 loss to eventual state champ Goreville in the semifinals to beat Salt Fork 5-0 in the third-place game on a one-hitter with 11 strikeouts by Killion.
Small-School Baseball Players of the Year
2016: Mark Nappier, Valmeyer
2015: Austin Keen, Althoff
2014: Nick Yung, Freeburg
2013: Wes Degener, Gibault
2012: John Goodrich, Nashville
2011: Bryce Bastien, Columbia
2010: Tyler Sonsoucie, Lebanon
2009: Joel Greatting, Columbia
2008: Cale Wine, Marissa
2007: Josh Mueller, Columbia
2006: Richie Derbak, Wesclin
2005: Josh Thole, Mater Dei
2004: Adam Buehne, Central; Brandon Melliere, Red Bud
2003: Nick Dunning, Wesclin
2002: Adam Hill, Freeburg; Ross Lobosco, Freeburg
2001: Kyle Rensing, Freeburg
2000: Robert Rahn, Roxana
1999: Zach Borowiak, Nashville
1998: Eddie Breuchaud, Greenville
1997: John Rheinecker, Gibault; Ben Cunningham, Greenville